Sid Chow Tan

Keeping A Promise by Sid Chow Tan

“Redress for the Chinese Head Tax and exclusion legislation is still not complete. The affected sons and daughters of Head Tax families deserve an inclusive, just, and honourable redress. The following began as notes and posted as a short report to the redress activist network in 2006 after the start of the ex gratia payment program. It is an updated, fond recollection of how truly beautiful our seniors are. With great thanks to Charlie Quan who passed away earlier this year. The struggle still continues…”

There is a movement building in the Saltwater City (Vancouver) to outlast Stephen Harper’s government should an inclusive, just, and honourable redress for Chinese Head Tax redress not be forthcoming. The Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretién, Martin, and default prime ministerial shifts of Turner and Campbell governments are over. Head Tax families are organized and growing stronger. By participating in the democratic political process, small successes have increased their collective credibility. Head Tax families are beginning to learn the media can help if you are straight with it. The redress movement has had big and long legs in the Chinese language media.

I’m close to fulfilling a promise made a few years ago to one of our seniors after today. Very pleasing. Got Charlie Quan’s application off by registered mail Tuesday afternoon. Eight bucks! Took us about four hours all totalled and also four fifty for me in bus fare. Charlie, who I now call the $20K man, has a bus pass and doesn’t carry photo ID. Had to go back to his place and pick up his passport. Reg Chow, a notary in Chinatown, was gracious when asked cost of services. He said to Charlie, “No charge. If it wasn’t for people like you, I wouldn’t be here.”

No apple tarts and ice cream tradition today – too full. But Charlie insisted on treating me for coffee, dai baos, and sticky rice at New Town. He had a BBQ pork bun but insisted I eat until full. He made a 1984 registration at Overseas Chinese Voice (Wah Kiu Jee Sing), a well-known Chinese language radio show Hanson Lau once produced and hosted. This was just after Dak Leon Mark asked Margaret Mitchell, his MP (New Democrat-East Vancouver, where Charlie lives), to call on the government for a refund of his Head Tax. It was Charlie who offered Quon Lung Sai Tong for organizing the current BC Coalition during the dark hours of November 2005. It was Charlie who taught me to invoke the spirit of Kwan Kung, patron protector of warriors, writers, and artists in our quest. Here we are after twenty-two years, he summing it all up in that Loh Wah Kiu way of his, “I won’t believe it until I have the money in my pocket.”

Got home to twenty-seven phone messages, three from media, a couple from Victor Wong and Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) people, and most of the rest were inquiries in Chinese more or less asking, “What’s going on…” Something (must be media) got this going. Also handled five calls from same about the same while writing this. In between a friend came over for a turkey sandwich and non-redress yak. The calls tell me there’s some confusion, mainly from spouses out there. I’m guessing after a few call backs. Have passed a few to Fanna and Grace and will call back the rest later today after radio interview. The to-be-formed Programming Committee needs to decide if and how we address this at coming hip hop event.

Waiting for the bus, on the bus, walking in Chinatown, and eating, Charlie and I had great chats today, mostly about food and Loh Wah Kiu recipes. Am reminded both he and Victor and Gim Wong have been at the forefront of the redress movement the past five years. Victor and Gim since redress started over two decades ago. When Gim and his son Jeffrey left last year on the cross Canada Ride for Redress, Charlie and I called on Kwan Kung to protect them. Possibly the first time this has been done for anything to do with redress. When the Conservatives via Bill C-333 and Liberals via their Agreement-in-Principle chose the self-serving approach, we mobilized and we called on the Big Guy in Gold Mountain again. Got great results. Charlie and a group of us did so again this past June as well to protect Gim and his wife Jan and the participants of the Redress Train to Ottawa. Got good media coverage just before the throne speech when we asked Kwan Kung to give Stephen Harper and his government the courage to do right for Head Tax families. Some partial results!

Charlie lost his certificate during the past five years. A copy was located when we dealt with the files last spring. That seems ages ago. I got screamed at in a national teleconference before last Christmas. Most everyone from the Saltwater City in on the phone call then threatened to quit the BC Coalition. This was because I refused to turn the BC Head Tax files over and instead sought a “made in BC” solution. Never did find out why the files had to leave BC.

Fortunately, a small merry band got five hundred bucks from the CCNC to do ten thousand pages of photocopying. We bought cases of paper but Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA) let us use their machine and probably three or four hundred dollars in toner. For over a month or so of weekends over late winter and spring we did copying, then segued into registrations at Centre A. Meetings upon meetings were held, often in the midst of copying.  Wonderful, now we have originals and three copies of the files.

Charlie was quite happy when I told him we found a copy of his certificate and gave him duplicates. When we were not busy photocopying and registering, there were demands by media and our particular need to confront and counteract soft messages, apologists, and outright sell-out groups and individuals. Then there was outreach within and without Chinatown. We made it through with trust and weeding out by just simply getting the grassroots work done. That was when we were having too much fun, eating too many apple tarts with ice cream while doing much strong outreach and group building. Hooray for us!

Did you know we now have a living Kwan Kung helping lead? That is, in spirit with the heart of a warrior, the plain words of an honest poet, and the eloquent presentation of an artist? He arrived unexpectedly in the redress movement and into my life five years ago, when the CCNC lawsuit was getting nowhere legally but getting a lot of media attention. His name is Charlie Quan and hails from the Quan Lung Sai Tung, a clan association named after the immortal’s birth place. Imagine my surprise when he told me he was a Head Tax payer. He is the second living Kwan Kung I have known. The other was my late grandfather, who would be 106 this year. Come to think of it, my grandmother had this spirit as well.

Charlie, who will be 100 next February, took some verbal negatives last year for doing photo op with Prime Minister Paul Martin. That was the seminal day when our November 26 movement a.k.a. the current reincarnation of the BC Coalition began. Charlie and Gim were inside. Most of us were outside leafleting and holding an information line. Gim was picking up info and literature and bringing it out to us. Charlie was hobnobbing with PM and telling him he wanted a refund of his Head Tax. I can still remember the appropriate welcome the Prime Minister received from us, somehow turning the situation around. Again hooray for us!

The election was called a few days later. Then three lower mainland Conservatives – two who were present at our November 26 action and the other, a two-term MP – broke ranks and supported Head Tax redress. Then David Emerson, my MP then a Liberal and now a Conservative, also broke with the Liberal position. Harper had announced he would give an apology and appropriate redress. Paul Martin then issued a personal apology on Chinese language radio. I continued to visit Charlie at his association but he said his hands were tied. When I asked him what we should do, he said we were doing good and to continue to do what we were doing.

Later, after a minority Conservative government, he told me that he asked the PM Martin for his money back. Martin said he could not do anything about it.

Immediately after the election, Charlie was back in the saddle again, even coming up with his position the afternoon just before the March 24 consultation in Toronto. A few years back, I asked Charlie why he wasn’t more visible before the lawsuit. He said Gim, Victor, and I were doing a good job. Then I asked why he decided to finally get so deeply in the campaign. He said, “You, Gim, and Victor do good job. But you need help. I can help you.”

And did he ever. Victor was still in the Saltwater City then and we had been holding meetings two or three times a year to update the seniors. Charlie and Gim were at most of them. It was then my promise to Charlie was made. I would try to get his money back as long as there was breath in me. Today he promised to help me get my grandfather’s money back as long as there was breath in him. After filling out the registration and mailing it, I feel that ninety-nine percent of my promise to him is fulfilled. And I feel one hundred percent certain Charlie will keep his promise to me.

That’s why today was so pleasing to me. Promise made, promise close to being kept. Charlie says he’ll call me when he gets his cheque and we’ll go eat again. His treat.

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